Degree In Sight

Interviewing for graduate school is only half about selling yourself. At the same time, you have the difficult task of asking faculty and students questions to figure out which program suits you.

Asking probing questions—based on everything you've read about the program as well as your discussions with current students or recent graduates—will also help you demonstrate your preparation and eagerness.

Faculty and students say your questions should address such topics as:

  • Fit. Ask questions that help you better understand the program's "big picture," says Tara Kuther, PhD, author of "Surviving Graduate School in Psychology: A Pocket Mentor" (APA, 2008). As you're talking to faculty and students, also ask yourself if you'd enjoy working and spending lots of time with the people you're meeting, she says.

"We're talking about several years of your life," says Kuther, a psychology professor at Western Connecticut State University. "You need to think ahead and make sure it's going to meet your expectations and goals, and that it's a place you can feel comfortable."

  • Climate. One guaranteed conversation starter for a student in the program is, "Now that you're here, what do you wish you'd known before you came?" says Susan Zlotlow, PhD, director of APA's Office of Program Consultation and Accreditation.

Also ask what the student-to-faculty advising ratio is, whether there are plenty of mentors available, and how available faculty members are.

  • Training and research. Make sure that the program's mix is right for you by asking: Are there plenty of opportunities to publish with faculty and work in their labs? To what extent do faculty members collaborate with one another?

When collaboration is common, students have more chances to branch out into different lines of research, experts say.

  • Cost and funding. Ask questions like: What level of financial support is available? What are the costs on top of tuition, such as renting in local neighborhoods, and what opportunities are available to defray those costs through research assistantships, tuition waivers and stipends? Does funding extend through the summer, or do students typically need to find a summer job?

Also consider asking whether health-care coverage is available, how much it costs and for what time period it's offered, says Loreto Prieto, PhD, of Iowa State University.

If you don't have a car, ask about the availability and cost of public transportation to practicum sites, and how far away those sites are, says John Norcross, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Scranton.

  • Diversity. With the U.S. population growing more diverse, future psychologists need culturally competent training and education, Prieto says. So, it's worth asking about the diversity of programs' faculty and students. Also ask: What coursework does the program offer on diversity? What opportunities exist to work with minority patient populations during clinical and training experiences?

  • Student success. Programs are required to share how well their graduating students fare as far as internship and career success, Zlotlow says.

She recommends finding out how much time it takes for the average student to complete the program as well as about the program's dropout rates. Students should also ask about students' success in snaring APA-accredited internships and achieving licensure, she adds. Accredited programs are required to publish that information in their catalogs and on their Web sites.

Above all, don't forget that getting accepted to a graduate program is only the first step, Zlotlow says.

"The ultimate goal isn't just to get in," she says. "It's to go through and get a degree."

By Christopher Munsey
gradPSYCH Staff